Have you finished your copy of Michael Wolff’s bestseller Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House yet? My copy arrived late last week and I am half way.
Now that we have come to terms that a volatile and impulsive man inhabits the White House — now that we are desensitized to the daily alarms from cabinet members and key foreign policy senators—we are nevertheless left with the spectacle that is Trump. Should we, can we, sit back and marvel at the reality TV show unfolding before us?
In the spring of 2017, I wrote an analysis for Atlantisch Perspectief on the three possible future pathways for Trump’s foreign policy. The first scenario was ‘Trump the Apprentice-President’, which forecasted that the first few chaotic months of the Trump policymaking machine would be ironed out and Trump would learn from his mistakes. The world needed to give his neophyte administration more time to sort out the details and the process of making America foreign policy.
The second pathway anticipated that Trump ‘the entertainer’ was out of his depth. It conjectured that Trump would channel his last job as a performer and merely play-act the role of president because he did not possess the knowledge and skills normally associated with being president. The final scenario was the gloomiest. President Trump would become the ‘Disrupter-in-Chief’, essentially enacting what White House strategist Steven Bannon wanted; namely, an economic protectionist and nationalist America.
Afterwards, I was asked several times which pathway I thought was the most likely. The middle one, of course. The first was too rosy and the last too dark—the Goldilocks choice was always to choose that pathway that matched with Trump’s prior character and conduct. Nonetheless, who could have predicted the way we would all become spectators in Trump’s Global Reality show?
Obsessed by revelations
It is clear that we are all transfixed. For instance, I recently read an article in The Guardian about what percentage of poor students go to the top universities in the UK (a mere 4 percent). However, while reading I noticed on the right sidebar a series of 5 tiles under the heading ‘most popular’ stories. They were all about Trump — Guardian readers, arguably the most high-brow liberal readers you might find on the planet, are obsessed with reading about Trump!
It is as if we are all voyeurs in a lurid tell-all White House series, a sort of House of Cards meets Sex in the City. A show complete with porn stars, money launders, Russian toadies, ‘The Mooch’, a Grim Reaper-type adviser, a Gollum-like adviser, and in the center the man Wolff calls the “clown prince among the rich and famous.” A president who presides over infighting, betrayal and purges in the corridors of the West Wing. A president who said earlier this month that he was a better president than Abraham Lincoln or George Washington—possibly, in his words, the “greatest president in the history of our country.” We cannot stop watching the generals try to rein in this toddler-president, who scarily tweets playground-level taunts at other world leaders. We obsessively count his lies (estimated at 5.6 lies a day for his first 355 days in office, bringing him over the 2,000 mark for uttered falsehoods).
Trump is his own biggest fan
A compounding factor is that Trump is just as transfixed with his show as we are. The New York Times wrote in October 2016 that Trump was fixated on his own celebrity and obsessed with the media. More to the point, he is ‘intoxicated by the glow of his name in the news media’, and thrilled when he sees his name mentioned.
While still a businessperson, Trump hired a service to compile the increasing number of references about him in the media, which he then subsequently reviewed carefully. This is what he said regarding his many references in the media: ‘There are thousands of them a day.’ Further waxing on how being a celebrity affects him, Trump said that he would be unnerved if he were ignored, overlooked or irrelevant. It is clear, Trump needs the world’s attention.
Being famous is no longer sufficient
Therefore, we should not give it to him. If we want the Trump administration to function with any sense of normalcy, we should communicate to the president that being a celebrity is not enough. He needs to shake off his personal obsessions for the good of the country. The only way to do that is hit him where it hurts him the most—ignore him and let him know his behavior will go unnoticed. We reject the soap opera, instead we will pay attention to good governance and actual policies.
I am sketching a fantasy if I think this really might happen. However, if I cannot make the world turn away from the outrageous Trump reality show, perhaps I can point out that we should also pay attention to what is happening because of the hoopla.
Shake off the fascination
We should all ask the question, what is the current presidential leadership costing Americans at home and abroad? Max Boot recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, that the U.S. is paying a price for its president that no one can trust. Recently, we had a clear indication of the costs when The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock the closest it has been to “midnight” since 1953—a time that was at the height of the Cold War after the Soviet Union tested its first hydrogen bomb. Fifteen Nobel Laureates shifted their analysis of whether or not humanity is in greater danger of a nuclear holocaust to reflect, they said, the geopolitical tensions that grip the globe today.
This is a clear indication that we need to shake off our fascination—that has us in its grip—we need to stop watching Trump’s Global Reality show. On second thought, although it is a mighty-entertaining read, full of salacious if not always true details of an undisciplined White House, I will take some of my own medicine and not finish my copy of Fire and Fury.